For months, the Occupy movement has been making headlines across the nation and around the world. From New York to D.C. to San Francisco, thousands have turned out to voice their opposition to what they say is an unfair distribution of wealth and opportunity in America. Whether or not you agree with the politics behind this movement, there is no debate that the Occupiers are a force to be reckoned with. And Wednesday, the movement came to Darien’s .
We at Fairfield County-based VolunteerSquare.com are all in favor of our constitutionally protected rights to peacefully protest, assemble and speak our minds. We also love when people take an active interest in their communities. So we decided to pay a visit to the demonstration on Wednesday, not to protest but to observe and learn firsthand about the passions behind the movement.
When we arrived at the park, we found about a dozen or so people braving the rain and the chill. One protestor was holding a sign calling for government to “End the Wars. Tax the rich.” Overall, what we saw was a very civilized demonstration. In , organizer and Darien resident Margaret Rague said today’s demonstration makes sense because the town "has more Wall Street people than any other single town in the nation."
It is true that Darien is one of the more affluent communities in the area, and the nation. In fact, the public perception of Fairfield County is that the entire region, the so-called Gold Coast, is untouchable. Yet the reality is that the 2008 economic crash and subsequent economic downturn has impacted Fairfield County in a number of significant ways. The housing crisis, the turbulence on Wall Street and the close ties our region has to the financial sector have all caused a tremendous amount of upheaval for families and individuals in the form of record foreclosures and layoffs. In fact, according to the Connecticut Department of Labor, unemployment in Fairfield County for November 2011 stood at around 7.5% -- that’s about 35,000 people out of work. Statewide, the Department of Labor says about 1.7 million people are out of work.
As much as the recession has impacted the private sector, it has also taken sharp aim at local nonprofits. According to a 2009 survey conducted by the Fairfield County Community Foundation (FCCF), nearly 75 percent of Fairfield County nonprofits saw an increase in demand for assistance. On top of this, in a 2011 survey, FCCF reports 80 percent of the agencies surveyed reported an increase in the cost of doing business. 50 percent reported a drop in funding from all government sources. This squeeze on the nonprofit sector has resulted in layoffs, program cuts and dips into operating reserves.
The picture is bleak for certain, but we see a window of opportunity. Volunteer! Nonprofit agencies are in desperate need of extra pairs of hands and offering your skills to an agency in need, even if for just an hour or two a week, is an outstanding way to help your community. On top of that, for those on the job hunt, it’s a perfect way to network, keep your professional skills sharp and maybe even uncover a passion you didn’t know you had! In fact, a recent New York Times article pointed out that professional networking site LinkedIn polled its employers in September and 40 percent say they rank volunteer experience as important as paid work on a resume.
What's more, instead of having such pronounced divisions between the so-called 99 percent and 1 percent, we think we just may be better off agreeing to all be part of the solution, the 100 percent working together to make things better for one another. It's a small gesture but one that could make a major impact. To learn more about how you can get involved giving back to your community through volunteering, visit our website, www.VolunteerSquare.com. The site is totally free for all and we have opportunities at agencies across the region for all ages and abilities.